Monday, August 25, 2008

Lights on for Latvia

This year marks the 90th anniversary of Latvian independence. Of course, there were about 50 of those years when they were occupied by the Soviet Union. But it is a critical point of policy for them that they have been sovereign, if sometimes unjustly occupied, for 90 years - as opposed to being two separate iterations of independence. So, the 90th birthday it is this year. Friday marked 90 days before the 90th birthday, which is kind of an odd day to celebrate, but who are we to quibble? August 22 is also the first day that anyone recognized Latvia's independence after the Soviet era - on August 22, 1991, Iceland renewed diplomatic ties with Latvia. (On August 22, 2008, Icelandic band Sigur Ros played a concert at the hockey arena in Riga. We wanted to dispatch a correspondent but tickets were LVL40, or about $80. Ouch. We realize now it probably would have been worth it.) Of course, the U.S. never officially recognized the legitimacy of the Soviet occupation of the Baltics in the first place, but Iceland still gets credit for being "first." It's all ever so complicated.

Anyway, the celebration was nothing formal; by common acclamation, it was decided that on this day, everyone should go out just after dark, with a candle, to a bridge - any bridge. That's all. The Akmens Bridge across the Daugava is a pretty big span, and there were a ton of candles out. There was also some sort of brief light-and-smoke show on the river (seen above in super-grainy nightvision). To be honest, we didn't really understand what that had to do with anything. Then again, the whole candle-on-a-bridge thing seemed a little random in the first place. But the President was there watching it (Latvia's President, that is, not W). The staff photographer almost bumped into him while strolling along staring at his camera. It's a bit easier for the President to get out among the people here than it is in the U.S.

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